Psychological stress during infancy has been found to cause early impaired memory and a decline in related cognitive abilities, according to a UC Irvine School of Medicine study. The study suggests that the emotional stress associated with parental loss, abuse or neglect may contribute to the type of memory loss during middle-age years that is normally seen in the elderly.The study, conducted in rats, is believed to be the first to show that early life emotional stress initiates a slow deterioration of brain-cell communication in adulthood.
These cell-signaling deficits occur in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning, storage and recall of learned memories. Study results appear in the Oct. 12 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
"The loss of cognitive function later in life is probably a result of both genetic and environmental factors," said study leader Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, the Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences. "While it is not yet possible to change a person's genetic background, it may be feasible to block the environmental effects, particularly of early life stress, on learning and memory later in life. These studies point to the development of new, more effective ways to prevent cognitive impairment later in life."
In their study, Baram, post-graduate researcher Kristen Brunson and colleagues found that limiting the nesting material in cages where neonatal rats lived with their mothers led to emotional stress for both mothers and pups. All evidence of this stress disappeared by the time the pups reached adulthood.
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